JESUS CHRIST EVER THE SAME (Hebrews 13:8)
There is some difference of opinion concerning the relationship of this passage contextually. The one school of thought holds that the assertion concerning Jesus Christ is a basis and proof for what we read in verse 7 concerning the Word of God which was preached by the leaders in the church, the apostles and others. Really, these faithful servants preached Jesus Christ as being the same in all ages. This, of course, is undoubtedly true. Such was the faith which the apostles preached. They laid the foundation besides which no other foundation can be laid which is Jesus Christ. (I Cor. 3:11) It may, however, be questioned whether this text refers exclusively to the foregoing verse, or whether it can not also be meant as referring to what follows in the verses 9, 10, 11. It then is the basis for the teaching that we must not be made steadfast in our hearts by “meat” but rather by grace. We hold that this is then a general saying concerning God’s covenant faithfulness in Christ Jesus in all ages. In Jesus Christ all God’s promises are yea, and in Him amen to the glory of God the Father. (II Cor. 1:20, 21) For in this latter passage we have a reference to God, Who is the one establishing us and anointing us with Christ through the grace of the Holy Spirit. For the grace that establishes us is the “earnest,” which is the Spirit of Christ.
The clarion note of this text, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” is worthy of a bit of study and attention. We ought to notice the implication of these names which are placed so emphatically on the foreground. This is especially true here in the book of Hebrews. The name “Jesus” refers to the historical man who born from a woman and made under law. (Gal. 4:4, 5) He came to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. He came to save His people from their sins. (Matt. 1:21) He is God in the flesh, who will sit upon the throne of His father David forever. This Jesus is Jehovah-saves, the Mediator of the New Testament in His blood. He alone brings all His people into the rest of the eternal Sabbath. (Heb. 4:8) This Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one of God to be the chief Prophet, the only High Priest, and our eternal King. This placing of these names emphatically on the foreground emphasizes the Son of God in the flesh in his Person and Office. It is the full gospel of grace in a nutshell.
Now of this Son of God, who is called Jesus, the Christ, it is stated that He is ever the “same”! This might refer to the eternity of His godhead, and truly the godhead cannot be separated from the predication that He is the “same” in all ages and times. However, here the viewpoint is the ever faithful and changeless manifestation of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament dispensation this Jesus was the Christ of God. No one will ever understand the meaning of the shadows and types in the temple without seeing that Christ is the surety of their fulfillment. He who does not see Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures is not understanding these Scriptures. He cannot see any unity of doctrine in them. All such must needs end in “divers and strange” teachings. Such cannot see that the Christ of “today” is the same Christ as the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures. And again, such will never understand that this Christ is changeless even in the ages to come here on earth, and in the endless ages of the eternal state, when the tabernacle of God shall be with man. This is the Jesus that says to John on Patmos as the glorified Christ, “Fear not, I am the First and Last, the Alpha and the Omega,” (Rev. 1:17). He is ever the same one, the I-Am-that-I-Am. We must cling to this one Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the flesh. To deny that Jesus Christ is ever the same is to fall away from the living God in the flesh. It is to become anti-Christian.
THE BASIC ADMONITION AGAINST DIVERS AND STRANGE DOCTRINES (Hebrews 13:9-11)
The term in the Greek for “doctrines” is didachais and not didaskaliais. The latter term refers to the content of the teaching while the former refers to the act of teaching: It refers to those teachings which are rampant in the church by those who do not understand or believe the truth of the Gospel, but are merely the attempts of would-be teachers to confuse the hearers. (Gal. 1:7) Such teachings are often as manifold and different as there are teachers. And those having itching ears will heap to themselves such teachers, now one and then another. They are “carried about” by such teachings and are far from the solid and only foundation: Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is against such that the writer writes a strong prohibition: be not carried about with strange and divers doctrines.
That such doctrines are denominated “divers” is because these are of such a variegated and confusing nature. They are an attempt at preaching so that the “heart” is established, but none of these teachings brings us to the rest which Jesus gives. It does not bring us to the old and tried way of the temple worship as this finds its fulfillment in the blood of the Cross. Perhaps the writer is here referring to the rising of the many errors of that day, which all are the way of “works of law” and not of “grace.” Each of these errorists had his own private interpretation. Furthermore, such errors were not only divers, but they were also “strange”. They did not carry the familiar sound of free and sovereign grace of God, Who loved and elected His people and sent His Son to save them: They were not the voice of the shepherd, but of thieves and robbers. (John 10:7, 8, 26) And now the sheep are warned against these foreign teachings which are not the law and the prophets, but the peeping and muttering of false teachers. For the teachings here referred to do not hold to the head Christ, but would change the “Christ” according to their own fancy and whim.
They zeroed in (these doctrines) on the question of “meats.” It was a matter of what entered into the mouth which brought about salvation. Such were the teachings of the “traditions of the elders.” These “meats” referred to the legalistic teachings in which the way of salvation was supposed to consist. The way into the most holy place with God was through what a man did with “meats.” It dealt with what was Levitically clean and unclean. It is the lesson which Peter must so profoundly learn when a sheet from heaven is lowered to him three times by the Lord with the command: slay and eat. In this sheet were all manner of clean and unclean animals. All were made clean by the Lord. (Acts 10:9-18) Later Peter must once more be corrected by Paul at Antioch when Peter acts contrary to the Gospel by separating himself from the Christians of the Gentiles in the presence of the Jewish Christians. (Gal. 2:11-21) It was Jesus Who showed up and exposed the folly of the washings of the hands and meats when He taught that not that which enters into the man defiles the man, but that which proceedeth from his mouth as this comes forth from the heart. (Matt. 15:15-20)
THE HEART ESTABLISHED BY GRACE (Hebrews 13:9)
Jesus says to His disciples before he dies on the Cross of Calvary, “Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me,” (John 14:1). It is an arresting fact that the writer to the Hebrews speaks of the “heart” here as that which must be established in the believers. For it is with the heart that man believes unto salvation. (Rom. 10:6-11) And of this heart into which the love of God is shed abroad by the Holy Spirit our text speaks. (Rom. 5:5) The letter to the Hebrews speaks repeatedly of the “heart.” It is the great benefit and reality of the better covenant that the law is not written on tables of stone, but that it is written in the heart and in the mind. (Heb. 8:10) Unbelief is also a matter of the heart, “Let not your hearts be hardened.” (Heb. 4:7-12) There must not be an evil heart of unbelief in the church, lest they fall away from the living God. (Heb. 3:12)
Now the text speaks of this heart and says that it must be established. This must refer to believing hearts which have been renewed by the Holy Ghost. Only such hearts can be established in the faith. And it is a good thing, a very beautiful (kalos) thing when the heart is established in a Christian, when he receives strength to stand on his believing feet, and with boldness draw nigh to God in Christ in the most holy place. What more beautiful thing, good thing, can there be. The Psalmist says, “But it is good for me to draw near unto God.” (Psalm 73:28) Here we understand with the Psalmist and say, “For thou, LORD, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” (Psalm 86:5) That establishes the heart. For to be established means: firmness in the sense of having inner stability, solidity. The ultimate stability is that of God in history in all His fulfillment of His promises. He can be relied upon that His word will come to pass; it is proved true. To be established is therefore always a matter touching our faith and confidence in God.
Now the text teaches that this must not be, neither can this be a matter of using of “meats.” In all the Old Testament dispensation many were occupied with meats. Generations of the people of God were walking in these “meats.” It was a heavy burden for the children of the Old Covenant in their day. (Acts 15:10), It dealt with the warp and woof of Levitical cleanliness in Israel. But it was to no “profit.” It could not really establish the heart then. It could only point to Jesus Christ yesterday, today, and forever the same! But in itself it could not cleanse but could only be a parabolic presentation of the Gospel till the time of Reformation when Christ would come the High Priest of better things. (Heb. 9:1-10) Why then now be carried about with all these winds of doctrine from their own steadfastness in Christ?
Shall there be an establishment of the believing heart, then it must be by grace. The term grace we find in the book of Hebrews in many passages, and the term is very significant. The term refers to God’s basic disposition to his people. Thus Christ tasted raw death for all his own “by the grace of God.” This was the grace which was back of the good pleasure of God in bringing many sons to glory. This is the grace which is such that the writer can speak of “what behooved God,” For grace is prior to election. Paul speaks of the election of grace. (Rom. 12:1-5) If it is not thus, then election is not election and grace is not grace, but works. When the heart is established by grace, it is established by the power of God as this works in the true preaching of the Gospel. And, therefore, we must not be carried away by every teaching, the divers and strange teaching of heretics who corrupt the Gospel.